South Africa: Universities in turmoil over #feesmustfall protests

By Aljazeera and Agencies

Countrywide protests demanding free tertiary education in South Africa entered a third week as police fired stun grenades and arrested 31 students at Johannesburg’s University of the Witwatersrand.

Demonstrations since last year over the cost of university education – prohibitive for many black students – have highlighted frustration at the inequalities that persist more than two decades after the 1994 end of white minority rule.

The current protests were triggered by a government recommendation that 2017 tuition fee increase be capped at eight percent – above South Africa’s current inflation rate of six percent.

Critics have said the increase would further disadvantage black students already under-represented.

Several students hurled rocks at the main building of the university known as “Wits” after they were prevented from entering by private security guards who retaliated by throwing rocks back at the students.

Weeks of violent demonstrations last year over university costs forced President Jacob Zuma to rule out fee raises for 2016 but university authorities have warned that another freeze for this year could damage their academic programs.

Earlier this month, 32 students were arrested after arsonists torched a law library at South Africa’s University of KwaZulu-Natal following days of protests by students over the cost of tuition.

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The University of Pretoria has shut down the Hatfield campus, as protests continue at the institution.

“In the light of continuing protest action at various tertiary institutions, the Management of the University of Pretoria has decided to close its Hatfield campus with immediate effect,” spokesperson Anna-Retha Bouwer said.

“This decision was made in the interest of the safety of students, staff and property.”

There have been sporadic protests at the institution, some calling for a shutdown, while other groups want to continue with academic activities.

 The protests follow the announcement by Higher Education and Training Minister Blade Nzimande, giving universities the freedom to determine their own fee increments for 2017.

Nzimande, however, indicated that the increments should not be more than 8%. The announcement was, however, not well received, with the majority of universities in the country experiencing protests.

Bouwer said the university was currently engaging with student leaders and other stakeholders.

“Details of the reopening of the campus will be communicated to all students, parents and staff on the website and social media platforms. The University regrets closing the campus at this critical time in the academic year, but all academic activities will be rescheduled,” she said.

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